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'Dripping in sweat': Participants talk up the short but intense workout of kickbox fitness

Kris Stonemark, 52, of Esko works out with trainer Caroline Higgins at 9Round, a compact gym where exercisers jump rope, punch a double-ended bag or box in Duluth. Stonemark likes the fact that 9Round trainers are on hand to encourage her, and that it’s individualized. (Clint Austin / / 5
Geoff and Johanna Rich are the owners of 9Round in Duluth. The couple established their recently opened gym in Kenwood Plaza, and what takes place in each round, or station in the gym, changes from day to day, Geoff Rich said. (Clint Austin / 2 / 5
Nick Olsen of Duluth uses a medicine ball to hit a bag while working out at 9Round in Duluth. (Clint Austin / / 5
Trainers use these pads kickboxing workouts at 9Round. (Clint Austin / / 5
Monitors display heart rate information for clients at 9Round. (Clint Austin / / 5

At 9Round, one of Duluth's newest fitness centers, even resting is active.

"Active rest," Geoff Rich was explaining. "That's where our trainer —"

As if on cue, he was interrupted by a commanding female voice: "WE'RE GOING TO DO WINDMILLS!"

Rich continued: "Our trainer is going to call out a shared exercise, and then we're going to demonstrate it, and everybody does that together."

The fact that a "rest" period consists of exercise speaks to the frenetic pace at 9Round, a compact gym in a red-and-black color scheme that occupies a Kenwood Plaza storefront between Papa Murphy's Pizza and Perk Place Coffeehouse and Bakery.

Inside, members arrive, spend three minutes at each of nine "rounds" — with a short "active rest" — in between, finishing half an hour after they began.

What takes place in each round, or station, changes from day to day, Rich said, but it's all low-tech. Exercisers jump rope; they punch, kick or knee a double-ended bag, heavy bags, a wrecking-ball bag, a horizontal bag and a speed bag; they don boxing gloves and trade choreographed punches with a trainer. (There's no sparring, Rich said.)

During an hour spent at 9Round last Tuesday, several people finished their ninth round. They were male and female, of various ages. At the end, they all had one thing in common.

"It's a workout that's going to leave you dripping in sweat," said Caroline Higgins, 23, one of five part-time trainers at 9Round.

Higgins, who recently moved to the region from Kansas City, Mo., has a degree in exercise science and is a swimmer, runner and bicyclist. She said she wondered at first if a 30-minute workout would be sufficient. "But I get in and out, and I'm sweating," she said. "I've burned 600 calories."

Likewise, trainer Joy Monger, 43, said she's an ultra runner who can cover 30 or 40 miles and barely work up a sweat.

"But I come in here, and it's a different workout for me," she said. "It's a challenge for me, and I'm dripping."

'A little push'

Kris Stonemark, 52, had driven from her home in Esko each day since 9Round opened for the workout. After finishing her ninth round last Tuesday, Stonemark was drenched in sweat, and pleased. She picked up a hammer and struck a red bell attached to the wall three times, indicating a "great" workout, according to the sign next to it.

"I like it," Stonemark said, as she removed red-colored wraps from her hands. "It makes you work."

A mother and grandmother, Stonemark chose 9Round to get "a little push," she said. She likes the fact that trainers are on hand to encourage her, but also likes the fact that it's individualized, with no class times to worry about. "You just come in and jump in, and that's what makes it easy."

Stonemark was at one time a kickboxer herself, but she comes to 9Round only to keep fit, she said.

That's true in general of 9Round members, Rich said. The point is that the kickboxing regimen offers a full-body workout that can benefit almost anybody.

"We're training the principles and, really, the form, but we're not so much training fighters," he said.

Addicted to 9Round

The impetus for establishing a 9Round in Duluth came from Johanna Rich, Geoff's wife and the franchise's co-owner. She had been a member of a 9Round in the Twin Cities and missed it when the couple moved to Duluth last year.

"I had an addiction problem with 9Round," said Johanna, 30. "So I needed to have my 9Round. So we decided as a couple to do the business venture."

The couple has a daughter who was born on Christmas Eve of last year, and Geoff, 31, is self-employed in information technology, working out of an office in the back of their gym. It provides some cushion as they launch into territory that, for them, is uncharted.

Pointing out that the floor plan is small, there's no motorized equipment and little electricity used, Geoff said, "In the world of franchises, it's a pretty affordable model. But still, for us, it's a big personal —"

"It's a little bit of a leap," Johanna finished.

Kickboxing fitness isn't brand-new to the Twin Ports. It's taught in martial arts establishments, and at least one fitness center, Strength Factory in Superior, offers it as an option. But the Riches hold the first 9Round franchise in the region.

Foot traffic

Theirs is the 542nd franchise in the company that was founded in 2008 and has locations in 11 countries, Geoff said. Among the 62 members who joined within the first several days, some previously had been members in other cities. Others happened across 9Round while visiting the strip mall for another purpose.

"We actually had a couple stop in yesterday," he said. "They said, 'We were just walking by and we're in workout clothes and we decided to try it out.' "

The anchor of Kenwood Plaza is a Super One store, and 9Round recommends locating its franchises close to a stable grocery chain, Geoff said. But they've also developed a good relationship with adjacent small businesses such as George's Liquor and Perk Place.

"The foot traffic in and out of these places all day is crazy," he said.

9Round is primarily considered fitness for adults, Johanna said, although they can accept members as young as 12. Outside of that, it attracts people of all ages, with more females than males.

The Riches emphasize that it's also for people starting out at all fitness levels.

"Some have boxing experience, some are in the military, some are moms who have three kids and haven't worked out in eight years," Geoff said. "And we've been able so far to be successful with all of the above. ... It's really a good full-body workout for anybody, not just the hard core enthusiasts."


The details

9Round, 1339 W. Arrowhead Road, is open six days a week: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and 7 a.m. to noon on Saturday. The first workout is free. Monthly memberships start at $79. To learn more call (218) 203-9993 or visit